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Computer Specifications & Terms Explained  (For Inquiring Minds)

General Terminology

You do not need to understand the information below completely.

Just know Hertz refers to speed and Bytes refers to size or capacity


MHz: Speed in Megahertz

GHz: Speed in Gigahertz (1 GHz = 1000 MHz)

MB: Storage Capacity in Megabytes

GB: Storage Capacity in Gigabytes (1 GB = 1000 MB)

TB: Storage Capacity in Terabytes (1 TB = 1000 GB)


Hardware: Physical parts of a computer

Software: Programs that are installed in a computer


Hard Drive or Hard Disk

Hardware that stores data, programs and information

Contains several rotating re-writeable disks

Measured in GBs or TBs.  1 GB = 1000 MB, 1 TB = 1000 GB

If this part fails, all your information or data may be lost

The hard drive copies files into RAM, where it can manipulate the files more easily, and then "saves" it back to the hard drive when it is finished.

This is the part that is referred to when you hear “Back-up your hard drive”


Memory or RAM (Random Access Memory)

Hardware that accesses information you are currently using

Memory speed measured in GHz.  Memory size measured in GBs

When you open a program, you start a process that finds the requested information on your hard drive.  Your computer's RAM is its workspace - the place where it can open and manipulate files and store information for short periods of time for quick retrieval.  The more RAM (or memory) your computer has, the more things it can have open at once, and the less time the processor has to spend moving things in and out of RAM as it needs them.


Processor or CPU (central processing unit)

Hardware that processes all system operations

Examples of trade names: Intel, Pentium, Celeron, Centrino, AMD, Athlon

Speed measured in GHz

The faster the processor is, the faster the computer should run.

The processor is the heart of your computer, and directly determines the raw speed of your system. 


What do I need?

The next question that is usually asked is "How much speed, memory, and storage do I need?"  This is difficult to answer, because it depends on what you are going to be doing, and what programs you plan to use, and how long you would like the computer to be "good enough".  As technology evolves, the programs that are written require more processing power and more workspace (RAM) and take up more storage space, so what is perfectly acceptable today will be slower in years to come. 


Almost all commercial software programs include a list of "System Requirements".  These are the specs for CPU speed, RAM, and Hard Disk space needed to install and run the program.  There are usually two lists, the "minimum" requirements, and the "recommended" requirements.  As long as your system is at or above the recommended requirements for the software you need to use, you are probably fine.  If you are only meeting the minimum requirements, then it's likely that this version of the software may not run as fast as it could, and the next version of the software may not run at all on your computer.


It is possible to upgrade parts of your computer.  RAM is usually the easiest thing to add, but there are different types of RAM, so matching your system properly is important.  A hard drive can be replaced with a larger one, but you will need to get the data off of your old hard drive and on to the new one.  The CPU is often more difficult to upgrade, because it has certain dependencies on the motherboard and other components. 


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